Writing for Inner Calm: A Mindset, Methods, and Daily Exercises for All | Dani Shapiro | Skillshare

Writing for Inner Calm: A Mindset, Methods, and Daily Exercises for All

Dani Shapiro, Novelist and Memoirist

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8 Lessons (54m)
    • 1. Introduction

      1:58
    • 2. Interlude: I Remember Exercise

      6:03
    • 3. The Mindset

      6:36
    • 4. Interlude: Four Quadrants Exercise

      6:39
    • 5. The Craft

      8:25
    • 6. Interlude: Real-Time Meditation

      11:38
    • 7. The Practice

      5:50
    • 8. Final Thoughts

      7:08
237 students are watching this class

About This Class

“This isn’t just a class that you take, it’s a way of life that you’re embarking on.”

Best-selling author and memoirist Dani Shapiro (Inheritance, Still Writing) invites you into her home (and her writing room) to discover what it truly means to cultivate the life of a writer. Whether you’ve set a goal to get published or are simply looking for a creative outlet, writing can be a healing ritual for all of us. With a calming mindset and easy methods that Dani uses herself, you’ll learn how to care for your gift, honor your need for self-expression, and create a lifelong, sustainable relationship with writing. 

Explore the three elements of the writing life with Dani:

  • The Mindset: Unlock the confidence to call yourself a writer and overcome any writer’s block, whether you’re published (yet!) or not. 
  • The Craft: Discover tools and ways of thinking to hone your skills as a writer, and get more words down on the page.
  • The Practice: Create a ritual around writing that works for you, and learn to prioritize your writing as a sacred space in your life.

Plus, each element is paired with a daily writing exercise that you are welcome to adopt in your own practice. Dani even guides you through a brief meditation in real time to help center your mind and jumpstart your writing day.

Whether you’re sitting down with pen and paper for the very first time or have been writing steadily for years, this peaceful class will act as a respite for your creativity—a place to reset and recharge, find inspiration, and set your intentions—before you turn to a fresh sheet of paper and begin.

Welcome to the writer’s life.

_________________________

This class is open to students of all levels. No writing (or meditation) experience needed—just a pen and paper.

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Transcripts

1. Introduction: When I think about a writing life, what it really has to do with is moving through the world with the mind of a writer, with the heart of a writer, to be an outsider/witness to what's happening around you. I'm Dani Shapiro, I'm a memoirist and novelist. Today's class is about stepping fully into your life as a writer. My most recent memoir, Inheritance, was an instant New York Times bestseller. My other memoirs are Hourglass, Devotion, and Slow Motion. Today's class is divided into three parts; there's the mindset, the craft, and the practices for the writer. So what is the mindset that allows you to really enter the space where you have the possibility of getting your work done? The craft of writing, I really think of as a toolbox. We need to understand how to make time move, how to create characters. Then the practice is really about the daily day in day out life of trying to create a piece of work. I'm going to be sharing with you some of my favorite writing prompts that I hope will become habits long after you've taken this class. I'm also going to be leading you in a pretty brief meditation, one that sets up my writing day. May I be strong. There's always the sense of, I don't know, do I have anything? Do I have anything at all to offer? Each day that has to be discovered again. In a way, some of the exercises that we're doing are like fact-finding missions. What's in there? What's in there that wants to come out? This isn't just a class that you take, it's a way of life that you're embarking on. 2. Interlude: I Remember Exercise: So now, we're in the room where I write upstairs in my house. I want to get right into doing our first writing exercise with you all. This is the exercise called, I remember. It is based on this wonderful little memoir that was published in 1970 by a writer named Joe Brainard, by the same title, I Remember. I'm just going to read you a couple of Joe Brainard's first passages from his book to give you a little bit of a sense of what's going on here. I remember the first time I got a letter that said, ''After Five Days Return To'' on the envelope, and I thought that after I'd kept the letter for five days, I was supposed to return it to the sender. I remember the kick I used to get going from my parents drawers looking for rubbers, (peacock). I remember when polio was the worst thing in the world. I remember pink dress shirts and bola ties. I remember when a kid told me that those sour clover like leaves we used to eat with little yellow flowers tasted so sour because dogs peed on them. I remember that didn't stop me from eating them. I remember the first drawing I remember doing, it was of a bride with a very long train. So Joe Brainard's entire book goes on like this. A sentence that begins with the phrase ''I remember'', and then a little bit of whitespace dropping down to the next sentence beginning with, I remember. As you could hear even just in a little bit that I read to you, it's entirely associative. He's not connecting memory to memory, at least not consciously. It's whatever comes up next. One of the things I love as a teacher, is watching a room full of people do this exercise because no one's pen stops moving. There's something so powerful about that phrase, ''I remember''. Once you begin, the memory is just continue to pour forth. So I am going to demonstrate this for you right now and do my own, I remembers. So for example, and this was just what maybe, just a couple of minutes, I begin with a memory about my childhood dog, Puffy, sorry, and the way that he used to wait for my dad to come home from work and sit by the kitchen door. But from there, immediately I went to, I remember a daisy wheel of prescription drugs, which is a way in which my mind associatively connected my dad coming home from work with the fact that my dad took a lot of pills, something that I've written a lot about. Then I remember the way my mother's eyes would dart back and forth. I remember the wallpaper in my bedroom. So for whatever reason, my mind stayed in childhood. But you can hear the way that each time there is a memory, the mind shifts to a new but very specific spot, often very visual. You may find little nuggets of interests of something when you think to yourself, actually, I'd love to explore that more in my writing. That happens often. But what also happens is that it's a way to prime the pump or to turn over your engine to get your mind and your heart and your imagination all going. We don't really know the contents of our own minds really until, at least I think this is very true for writers, for anyone who has the urge to write. We discover what we know through what we write on the page. Those weren't memories that I was conscious of having at that moment until I wrote those words, ''I remember''. So one of the things that I would really encourage you to do when you start doing these I remember exercises, is get yourself a dedicated notebook. Have an ''I Remember'' notebook, so that each time you pick up that notebook, you are ready to sort of enter memory, enter that world of I Remember. It's also a good way of remembering for yourself that this is an exercise that you like to do. We need these visual reminders. If you have a notebook there next to your computer or on your desk or wherever you write, you'll be more inclined to pick it up and to do this exercise. It's very important to do this actually handwriting not on your computer, because the hand is moving at the speed that the mind is moving, it slows everything down and creates, I think, more space for there to be able to be a capacious sense of what's in there. We never know what's in there memory wise. Every single time you do this exercise, it will come out differently. So now, we're going to move into talking about the mindset. 3. The Mindset: Now let's settle in and talk about this idea of mindset. Mindset is really a number of different ways of getting around your own resistance, quieting the voices in your mind that tell you that you can't do this for one reason or another so that you can get to work. At a certain point a number of years ago, I had a folder on my computer desktop and one day I opened the folder and in it was every short piece of work that I'd published in the previous, like five or six years and every single one of these ended up being a very well published piece. It suddenly occurred to me that one of the things that these pieces had in common is that every single one of them I started with this thought in my head. "Here goes nothing". "Here goes nothing". This time it's not going to work, so here goes nothing but I'm going do it anyway which really comes very much from many years of having that thought "Here goes nothing" and doing it anyway. Like there's a muscle that you build with that. I mean, I have friends who've won the biggest awards that there are to win in the World. Literary awards, who still wake up in the morning and when they're brushing their teeth, they're not thinking, ''Check me out, I won the Pulitzer Prize or I won the National Book Award.'' It's not how it works. There's always this feeling of, "Yeah, I did that, but here goes nothing." The minute a writer is trying to begin something, whether it's the first glimmer of an idea or it's thinking just like yeah, so having something that begins to gel or conceptualized like, I want to write about that, the minute that happens, the inner censor pops up and the inner sensor says, "you can't do that, that's stupid, that's been done before". Some version of whatever the inner censor is saying on that particular day, resistance sets in. I have so many other things to do. I have this checklist of all these other things that need to happen before I can sit down to write. What I have to say isn't important enough. What will so and so think, so and so's feelings might be hurt. This is all before putting one word on the page. Mindset is about saying, ''Yeah, and I'm going to get to work anyway.'' I think you have to think of yourself as a real writer in order to be able to sit down and do the work. If you think of yourself as a writer then you will make time for it. Then it will be something that isn't just a hobby that you're filing away in a corner that maybe you'll get to one day whereas if you prioritize, I'm a writer and this is important to me and I'm going to create space and time for my work because this is something that matters to me, this isn't just some pipe dream I have with this is something that I'm actually really going to invest myself in. I think calling yourself a writer becomes an investment in yourself. When my book "Still Writing'' came out, I was speaking mostly to audiences of aspiring writers and I started doing this thing really early on where I would ask the audience how many of you are writers and some hands would go up but meanwhile, I knew that I was speaking to a room full of writers and only maybe ten percent of the hands went up so I amended the question and I said, how many of you write? All the hands went up. I used to think before I was a published writer, that when and if I became a published writer, that that feeling of permission would finally just be done with for once and for all because I would have validation. I longed for that day where someone would say for the first time, "What do you do?" And I would answer, I'm a writer and then that person would say,"Have I read anything of yours?" And for the first time I would be able to say, well, yes, actually, I just had my first novel published. That day came and I was actually in a taxi having a conversation with the cab driver and he asked me what I did and I told him I was a writer and he said "Have I read anything you've written,'' I said, well, yes, actually my my first book just came out this week. He said, ''Is it a bestseller? Are they making a movie out of it?'' That was such a great lesson for me. If you're waiting for the world to give you permission, the world is never going to give you permission. There's always going to be somebody who has more marbles than you do. There's always going to be somebody that you compare yourself to and find yourself wanting. There's a recklessness that goes into that deep dive into a first draft when you've quieted your inner censor, you've giving yourself permission where you're there, you've meditated, you're sitting at your desk. When a writer has reached that place, there is a really wonderful recklessness because that writer has for the time being become willing to feel the fear and do it anyway, face the fear down and just go for it. In my memoir hourglass, there is one sentence in that book. It was the very last sentence that I added to the manuscript and it was a sentence that I thought and I thought I can't write that. Then I wrote it. I thought I have to delete that and I deleted it and then I wrote it again, and then I deleted it again and I wrote it again. I did that about like ten times and then I finally left it in and when I turned the manuscript back into my editor and she read it, she called me, she said my favorite line in the entire book was that. She didn't know that I struggled with that line. Why was it her favorite line? Because it was really alive. Why was it alive? Because it terrified me, so now what? You have this information, you know you have an inner censor, you're aware of your resistance but what really your next step is action. It's getting to work. It's taking that flying leap. It's not sitting back and thinking about all these things in an abstract way. It's actually starting to put words on the page and see what happens. 4. Interlude: Four Quadrants Exercise: We are back at my desk and I am going to get you writing right now with an exercise that I don't want to tell you anything about until after we've done it. So I'm going to just demonstrate it for you and then we can talk about it. So I call this exercise the four quadrants exercise. You take a sheet of paper in a notebook, hopefully, a dedicated notebook again, and you divide it, separate it into four quadrants. In the upper left-hand quadrant, you write the word Did. The upper right, you write the word Saw. Lower-left, you write the word Heard, and the lower right, Doodle. Then you write the numbers one through seven vertically under did and saw, and just one under heard, and then you leave doodle blank. So I'm going to challenge myself to write seven things that I did, seven things that I saw, and one thing that I heard since this morning, and then I'm going to create a doodle out of one of those things. Again, I will explain. Did. Hit the snooze button. Made cappuccino. Meditated. Walked the dog. Picked a sweater to wear for this video. You actually have to think, "What did I do?" Greeted the crew. Wrote a note to the woman in Australia. Okay. Saw. A deer grazing in the yard. My son sleeping. A pile of books I need to sort through. Laundry. My crystals. Photos from yesterday's visit with Trevor and Lindsey. The SUV coming up the driveway. Heard. Barking. Doodle. This is going to be a really terrible drawing of Samson, the labradoodle. All right. There you have it. So let me say a few things about why this is interesting, arts and crafts, exercise, but in fact, a really important practice that you can do every single day that will help warm up your instrument as a writer. I just now noticed what I've been noticing this morning. When you do these and you do them every day, you want to consider dating them because they become in a way a record of what you've done. If I were to look at this page six months from now, I would be able to call back this whole day in a great deal of detail because of just these little moments that I remembered and noticed and set down. The purpose of the doodle is to play. Nobody's expecting to make a world-class doodle. So, in fact, what that does is reminds us that in a kind of almost childlike way, we can just have fun. I laughed when I made that drawing because I can't draw to save my life, but I wanted to draw this little image of Samson the labradoodle. So you also notice what you're not paying attention to. I did way more than those seven things since I woke up this morning, but I got stuck there for a minute. Wait a minute, what did I do? Did I do anything else? What did I see? Heard was particularly easy for me today. So it changes constantly but what its doing is it is cultivating your inner witness and that is something that as a writer that you want to do is constantly be witnessing, constantly be noticing, be alive to the present moment. This exercise, the four quadrants, really thrusts you into the present moment. I hope that you will get a dedicated drawing pad or notebook that becomes your four quadrants exercise journal. I have so many students who have adopted this as a practice and find it incredibly effective and useful. There's one other thing I want to say about this exercise, which is that, over time, you can substitute other of these captions did, saw, heard, with other senses and you can make it hard on yourself. What are seven things that I tasted today? What are seven things that I touched today? What are seven things that I smelled? What are seven scents that I smelled today? So what it really is doing is creating a very vibrant sense of aliveness that then you bring to the page. So from here, this is a very good place to really embark on our conversation about craft. 5. The Craft: So why is this so central to craft? You might think that what's central to craft is, how do you use an adjective well? Or how do you make your verbs active? While all of that is relevant and all of that is important to know how to utilize, ultimately, none of that by itself is helpful or effective if it doesn't have a container to be put into. What that container is, is the world of the writer. When you become more alive to the world around you, what begins to happen is you see stories everywhere. When you're noticing what you're noticing, you begin to discover, what resonates with you? Why does that image stay with you? Why did that moment that you witnessed matter and why does it continue to haunt you? This is how we begin to really discover our subject matter. Ideas come to us. They shimmer, they have intensity to them when we're wide awake. The four quadrants exercise is enormously helpful in waking us up to what we're seeing. So one of the biggest misapprehension that I come across again and again among writers who are setting out to try to write something and get it published is it has to be a huge story, it has to be a shocking story, it has to be an extraordinary story in order to capture anybody's interest. I really believe it to be true that some of the greatest, most interesting, most compelling works of our time are about ordinary moments. Ordinary people sometimes thrust into extraordinary circumstances, but sometimes just simply ordinary people grappling with ordinary life. It's in the rendering of that life, it's in the way that it's described, it's in the way that the reader is able to enter the inner life of a character and embody that character in some way, that's where the art is. This idea that it's got to be huge explosive thing simply isn't the case. So back to the idea of noticing what you're noticing, well, nothing amazing happen today because you know what? Nothing amazing happens most days. But yet at the same time, there are miracles everywhere that unless our eyes are open, we don't get to witness. Ordinary lives contain within them grief and heartbreak and loss and love and fear. To be able to write about those states requires courage. Courage is not only about great big confessional moments. I think that that gets misunderstood in our culture as well. The idea of going to confess here, and that makes me brave. I think it's equally brave, if not more brave, to go inside of small, intimate, complex moments with the intention of trying to reveal them, to peel back the layers of them. When I'm writing, I at first try not always very successfully, but to not be overly concerned with my sentences and their perfection. What I initially trying to do is see what I have. The only way that I can see what I have is by getting it down. I sometimes say to my students, "There's two kinds of writing and you need both." The first kind is getting it down, and the second kind is getting it right. But if you're so concerned with getting it right, you're never going to get it down. That's to go back to the inner sensor. That's what can stop you is that sense of, but it's not going to be perfect. It's never going to be perfect. It's never going to be perfect ever. We can strive toward perfection, but there is no such thing as a perfect novel. There's no such thing as a perfect essay, a perfect memoir, a perfect screenplay, a perfect anything. I often think about my friends who are visual artists who work in marble or in wood or in steel. I envy them sometimes because they have stuff to work with, that the marble already has character, the wood already has character, the blank page is just a blank page. But when you allow yourself that messy first draft, when you allow yourself to get it down without worrying about getting it right, then suddenly you have your marble, then you have your wood, then you have your paints, then you begin to have something to work with. So when you're starting out, don't overly worry about your sentences. You're probably going to throw half of them away anyway. You can start thinking about that when you get to the place of trying to get it right, which then has to do with really looking at your sentences, are these clean? Are they strong? Are they true to the voice that I'm trying to create on the page? It's important to remember too that nobody's going to read it except for you until you're ready to have them read it. It's not going to magically jump off your shelf and onto the shelves of your local bookstore. You can take as long as you possibly want to with a piece of work, polishing it, perfecting it, getting it right. But first, allow yourself, give yourself the permission to get it down. The thing about craft is that there is no one-size-fits-all list of instructions that anybody can give you. Sometimes writing in the first person, which is the I voice, creates a tremendous amount of intimacy and immediacy. Sometimes writing in the first person feels solipsistic and claustrophobic. This is where it's not in any way something where you can paint by numbers or decide, "I'm going to write this memoir in the present tense because I want it to be really immediate. I'm going to have white space because I want there to be room for the reader." You can't make decisions like that as you're embarking on a piece of work. Those decisions come from being inside a piece of work. The piece of work itself will let you know what it needs. This is why I like to talk about craft in a really holistic and organic way because ultimately, it is coming from the inside of doing the work. Again, having all that information, knowing the technical terms, having all of that at your disposal, but not being slave to it because it can create self-consciousness that just makes the work go really flat. As we're entering the practice part of this class, I want to talk to you a little bit about ritual. When you're practicing, and it is practice, when you're practicing your craft, we all need rituals as gateways into doing our best work. Every writer I know has a ritual, if not more than one. For me, the most important ritual of all in my writing practice is the practice of meditation. So now as we enter the practice part of class together, we are going to share a brief meditation. So now we're going to go upstairs to my meditation space. 6. Interlude: Real-Time Meditation: So now we're in my meditation space. Welcome. I'm going to take you through essentially what is my morning ritual and then lead you into an abbreviated version of a meditation of the Metta loving kindness meditation that we talked about. So what I do every morning, this is a little dented tin container that has traveled with me all over the world. It contains within it a number of crystals that are all gifts from friends and teachers. Some people ascribe healing powers to crystals. I don't really think about that much, I just find that making this shape in this order every day gives me a couple of minutes to settle in and get ready to meditate, create the space to begin my meditation. So that is my shape of the crystals. Then my friend, Gabrielle Bernstein who is one of our modern spiritual teachers has this deck of inspirational cards that she gave me several years ago that I just started using because every single one of them sets up my day for thinking in a helpful, useful, positive direction. Every single one of these cards has some beautiful message. So energy flows where your intention goes. The presence of love will always cast out fear. This is one of my favorites, I am the dreamer of my dream. I think we are all the dreamers of our dream. So I set those out and I change them every day I just pick three and then this is an entire case of essential oils, but these are two essential oils that were specifically blended for me by my friend, Elena Brower who is one of the great yoga teachers in the world. Elena made this for me and they're beautiful and they're just a blend of about 11 different essential oils. This one that I just put on my palms is called Happy. There's something too, I think, about scent that brings us into an emotional state and a pleasant moment. I think something also to do with scent and memory that whenever I'm traveling, and I do travel so much for work, and wherever I am if I have these scents, these cards, these crystals, I feel like I'm home. So I'm going to move us directly into the Metta meditation. So take a moment to settle yourselves and wherever you are just find a comfortable seat and gently close your eyes. Once you have found your seat, take a moment and actually think about what it is to be comfortable in a seat. Where is your body being supported? Feel your seat bones against your cushion or your chair or the floor. Feel the palms of your hands resting on your thighs. If you're in a chair or on a sofa, feel the small of your back. Notice that you're being supported without having to actually do anything and allow gravity to do its work. Begin to gently turn your attention to the breath. Not breathing in any particular way, just noticing that you're inhaling and exhaling. Again, as you always are all day long, without actually having to try or force anything. So we begin the Metta meditation with four phrases, four blessings, four wishes that we're going to repeat several times in several different ways. May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. Again, may I be safe. Feel that sense of safety in your body. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. Now we invite into our hearts someone we love and we offer these blessings, these wishes to that beloved person. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Now we invite into our hearts a familiar stranger, someone we might pass by every day and perhaps not know anything about them or not even know their name, but they are part of our life, the fabric of our lives, nonetheless. So to the familiar stranger, may you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Now with the same spirit of equanimity, we invite into our hearts someone with whom we have difficulty, and we offer these blessings, these wishes to that difficult person. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Finally, we invite all living beings into our heart and we offer these blessings, these wishes to all living beings near and far. May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy. May all beings be strong. May all beings live with ease. Safe, happy, strong, live with ease. Whenever you're ready, you can slowly come back to the room, open your eyes. A couple of things about that meditation it was on warp speed. When you do this, as I hope you will again and again, you can really sink into the Metta practice. It can take 10 minutes, 20 minutes, it can take hours. I wanted to give you a little bit of a taste of it and a couple of other things just notes. Sometimes people who don't have a prayer practice get confused and are wondering whether this is prayer, I know I did when I first started practicing, and it doesn't have to be metta physical. It's really the expression of a wish and I think we all wish, we all wish for ourselves, we all wish for others. I also want to say one thing about the word happy, because that also trips people up. By happy we don't mean giddy with joy, we mean can we be content with what is right now. Thank you for practicing with me. Now we're going to go back downstairs and we're going to talk about the link between meditation and writing and why I think it's so important for writers and artists. 7. The Practice: To me, the practice is everything that supports the writer to be able to do the work. So I have a daily meditation practice. I sit for 20 minutes every morning, no matter what, before I check e-mail, before I read the headlines of the day, before I really talk to anybody if at all possible. I do make a cup of coffee first. But I have that meditation practice because it puts me in closer contact with my own mind. My mind is elusive to me without that practice. If I sit for those 20 minutes, then I'm noticing like, oh, that's what's on my mind, or that's where my mind is drifting to every 10 seconds, I'm having that thought or I'm having that sensation. So it has the quality of calming and settling my mind sometimes at best, and at the very least, of coming to know what's actually going on. So that when I then approach the page, I'm approaching the page with a hopefully less obscure or obscure to me, mind. With an unconfused mind, we need to not be confused when we're sitting down and trying to create something that has clarity on the page. Practice to me feels a little bit more sacred than routine or habit. I would say it's the closest way that I know to cultivate inspiration. Another thing that happens with meditation in general, is that often the person meditating really wants to get up and run away. It's a version of the inner sensor in meditation. But in the case of meditation, the voice says something like, "Surely, 20 minutes have gone by I should check the watch.'' Or ''I'm hungry.'' Or ''I just had a really important thought, I better write that thought down." When in fact that's happening often, precisely at the moment that something deeper is about to happen. So we want to flee, we don't want to feel it, we don't want experience it, we're about to be pierced by something that feels a little bit scary to us. So we decide that we're hungry or that the time must be up. It's the same in the writing life, it's the same when you're sitting at your desk, and you're in the middle of a piece of work, and then suddenly you think, "Oh, I'm hungry." Or "Oh, much more insidiously, I need to check my e-mail write now." Then the next thing you know, you haven't shifted position at all, but you've left what you're doing, and you've gone somewhere else. You learn to catch yourself when you meditate, and you learn to catch yourself, that learning to catch yourself translates into when you're sitting at your desk. I think when it comes to ritual, that this is such a deep process of learning about yourself and what works for you, what works for one person may not work for another. A specific time of day may sound like a habit, but it can really be a ritual if what you're doing is setting your alarm for before anyone else in your house wakes up, so you have a sacred half-hour to yourself before you have to start the day. The trick is to make it sacred, to make it be about the writing, even if all you're doing is sitting there and thinking, but touching the work everyday in some way or another even if you don't have a lot of time, a lot of people don't have a lot of time, but just that, I'm just going to read over what I've done before I go to sleep at night. Or I'm just going to spend a few minutes every day. I'm going to carry it with me in my bag, I'm going to spend a few minutes touching it, connecting to it in some way over the course of the day so I stay connected to it. I have a friend who's a poet who lights a candle every day when she's getting to work, and when she has lit that candle, she knows she's working. I have another friend who's a runner, and runs every morning. If I did not have a cappuccino machine, if my cappuccino machine broke, I would have to pause my writing day and go buy a new one, because I can't start my day without a cappuccino, and that is a form of ritual. Making the cappuccino is a ritual. Sometimes I don't even drink it, but I need to actually, the mug, the coffee, the steaming of the milk, it's a repetitive action, the smell that brings me into my writing day. We're putting ourselves in the path of possibility, the path of inspiration. Often when I'm meditating, language will come to me that has been alluding me, a description for something that has been really, really hard for me to arrive at, will just pop into my mind because my mind is quiet, and I'll make a little mental note, "Oh, thinking, I like that sentence." Then I'll go back, and I'll finish my meditation. But in the quiet, in the stillness, there's just the possibility of the uncovering of a greater truth, and really that's what we're trying to do. 8. Final Thoughts: So you may have had the experience of going on a vacation and getting to a really relaxed place, and then thinking I'm going to keep on feeling this way, and then coming home and within three days it's gone. What I am really hoping for in this brief time that we've had together is that I've given you tools that you will be able to continue to cultivate. That will become some of them, or a few of them, or maybe all of them part of your daily life as you're moving forward. I hope that you will consider a dedicated journal for your I remember exercises. Sit down for a few minutes every day and just begin with that potent phrase, I remember. I hope that you will dedicate a journal to the four quadrants exercise. Date every day, and just everyday spend 5, 6, 7 minutes just writing what you did, what you saw, what you heard, and making a doodle. These ideas that I've presented you with in the form of the metta meditation, various kinds of rituals that you might want to think about and really make your own. These rituals and the habits that we talked about at the beginning are going to set you up for success as you move forward into the next chapter of your writing life. So by taking this class, you've already taken a step to becoming part of a writing community. I hope that you'll share in the project gallery that you'll get to know the many other people who are taking this class, and share work with each other, and create that sense of being in this together. This thing that has to be done alone, but it doesn't have to be lonely, it is solitary. But at the same time, there's such a vast community of people who are out there writing. I've loved spending this time with you and thank you for going along the journey with me. I'm going to end by reading the very short final chapter of Still Writing which is my guide to living a creative life. It's a book that as I was writing, I very much thought of as a companion to writers. So I hope you'll think of this class as a companion as well. So the final chapter of Still Writing is called Still Writing. "My friend Mark, a sculptor whose large-scale works in granite and marble have been commissioned by Stanford University and Penn State, whose pieces are in some of the most prominent art collections in the country, and who is a well-respected professor at the New York Academy of Art, pulled me aside at a dinner party. "Somebody just asked me if I was still doing my sculpture thing," he said. I laughed. "I'm serious," he said. "How was I supposed to respond? 'Are you still doing that brain surgery thing?'" I thought of all the times that I've been asked if I'm still writing. I've been asked this by acquaintances and strangers, even by fans, readers of mine. Still writing? It always felt to me like a shameful thing that I was being asked this, that surely if I had written more books, won more awards, made more money, was better known, I wouldn't be dealing with this question. Still writing? Over the years, I've assumed there must be a point at which this would cease to be asked. After two books? Five? Seven? After being interviewed on NPR? The Today Show? Oprah, for god sake? Though, I felt protective of my friend, it was a relief. Ridiculous though it was to hear that he had to deal with the same question. As if he might have outgrown it, changed course, gone into law, or opened a fish store instead. I've asked around, and discovered that every artist and writer I know contends with a version of this question. It's asked to writers who are household names. It's asked of photographers whose work hangs in the Museum of Modern Art. It's asked of stage actors who have won Tonys. Of poets whose work is regularly published in the finest journals. No one who spends her life creating things seems exempt from it. Still writing? Oh, and I'm pretty sure that the person asking it means no harm. It's just an awkward stab at social chitchat. But best to stick with the weather, or the miseries of the college admissions process, or the deliciousness of the soup. Still writing? Usually, I smile and nod, then quickly change the subject. But here is what I would like to put down my fork and say: Yes, yes, I am. I will write until the day I die, or until I am robbed of my capacity to reason. Even if my fingers were to clench and wither, even if I were to grow deaf or blind, even if I were unable to move a muscle in my body save for the blink of an eye, I would still write. Writing saved my life. Writing has been in my window, flung wide open to this magnificent, chaotic existence, my way of interpreting everything within my grasp. Writing has extended that grasp by pushing me beyond comfort, beyond safety, past my self-perceived limits. It has softened my heart and hardened my intellect. It has been a privilege. It has whipped my ass. It has burned into me a valuable clarity. It has made me think about suffering, randomness, goodwill, luck, memory, responsibility, and kindness on a daily basis whether I feel like it or not. It has insisted that I grow up. That I evolve. It has pushed me to get better, to be better. It is my disease and my cure. It has allowed me to not only withstand the losses in my life, but to alter those losses, to chip away at my own bewilderment until I find the pattern in it. Once in a great while, I look up at the sky, and think that If my father were alive, maybe he would be proud of me. That if my mother were alive, I might have come up with the words to make her understand. That I'm changing what I can. I am reaching a hand out to the dead and to the living and the not yet born. So yes. Yes. Still writing."